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Beyond the Bale : Jun - July 08
By Catherine Norwood W hen Italian wool processors asked visiting woolgrower and Nuffield Scholar James Walker what was happening on the issue of mulesing, he told them, unequivocally, that it would be phased out in Australia by 2010. James was in Italy as part of his $25,000 Nuffield Scholarship sponsored by AWI. The issue of mulesing was raised while he was in Biella and Treviso, visiting woollen mills and the regional AWI offices for a firsthand appraisal of trends in wool milling and the fashion industry. Following his trip, and talking to people in Europe, James describes the mulesing issue as “a bit of a hiccup” rather than a lasting crisis: “We have to do something about it and we are. It will be phased out by the end of 2010 and that’s all there is to it,” he says. James, who runs Merinos as part of a diverse farming operation near Carrick in northern Tasmania, says that despite the current high profile of this issue, the research he conducted during seven months of travel on his Nuffield Scholarship actually increased his confidence in a stable, long-term market for wool and for fine wool in particular. While in New York, James looked at the labelling of wool in international markets, and in China he toured a wool mill. In South America he spoke with woolgrowers and manufacturers in Uruguay, Chile and Argentina. “We need to keep building on our marketing and promotion efforts and any promotion of wool as a product helps us all.” He is also convinced Australian growers must and can do more when presenting their wool for sale to ensure Australia has a good reputation for providing high-quality and clean wool. “From the manufacturers’ point of view, we can better prepare our clips (in terms of contamination), and separate the different quality wools and different tensile strengths to suit the consumers – the woollen mills. “There’s the normal contamination of string and vegetable matter, but there’s also stained wool, and dark or black fibres from other sheep. The new sheep breeds that shed wool are also causing a growing contamination problem in wool from other flocks.” He says his study tour convinced him there would always be demand for high-quality wool, particularly in international markets. James runs a 2200-hectare family property with his wife Anna, son Stephen and father Don, plus two full-time staff and one casual employee. Of their 7000 sheep, about 60 per cent are fine-wool Merinos, and 40 per cent are Corriedales and crossbreeds for the prime lamb market. There is also a herd of Murray Greys. The Merinos produce 17 to 18 micron wool of high tensile strength, and the Walkers have regularly been among the finalists in the Elders Clip of the Year competition in Tasmania. James says the Merinos represent about 40 per cent of the farm turnover. They are one of the lower-risk enterprises on the property – a steady, long-term investment with less margin than some of the family’s horticultural operations. They also represent the best use of the more rocky and less fertile areas of the farm. Matching production with the capability of the land is an important part of James’s strategy, which has led him to try a wide range of crops. He is currently a small-seed producer for a number of horticultural crops, such as cabbage. He also grows poppies for opium production – Tasmania is the only state where poppies can be legally grown, under licence. The family also produces potatoes, canola, wheat, barley and oats, and is planning to expand with other crops and improved pastures as they develop an irrigation system. Importantly, James says the Nuffield Scholarship has also given him more self-confidence. “Two years ago I wouldn’t have got up in a blue fit to speak in front of a group. But this year I was able to present my findings at the Nuffield Autumn Tour to more than 100 people and actually feel quite confident. I’ve also made a number of other presentations. “I’m trying to encourage others I know to apply for the next round of scholarships – because it’s not just what you learn about farming, it’s what you learn about other cultures, and yourself,” he says. “If you just sit back at home you can get into a rut, and grow a bit negative. When you get out, you find that there is so much positive stuff happening around the world.” Applications for the next round of Nuffield Scholarships, for travel in 2009, opened on 1 April 2008 and close on 30 June 2008. There will be 16 scholarships offered, sponsored by a range of industry groups and organisations. AWI is again sponsoring a wool-industry scholarship. ú More information: www.nuffield.com.au European ‘hiccup’ fails to dent long-term belief in Merino Touring Europe as part of his AWI-sponsored Nuffield Scholarship convinced James Walker there will always be demand for high-quality wool 12 EducATIoN BEyoNd thE BalE Pho To: T IM d ub Northern Tasmanian grower and Nuffield Scholar James Walker has confidence in a stable, long-term market for wool, especially fine wool.
Jun - Jul 08 Supplement
Aug - Sep 08